Doping linked to athletes’ moral decisions


London, Elite athletes are less likely to take banned substances if they consider the morality of what they are doing, and not just the health consequences of doping, says a new research.

The study from the University of Birmingham, funded by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), asked 1,500 athletes from the UK, Denmark and Greece to complete a questionnaire about two hypothetical doping situations.

Participants were male and female elite football players, competing just below professional levels.

The findings, published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise, showed that some athletes were able to disengage, or distance themselves from the moral aspects of doping — leading to lower feelings of guilt.

“If an athlete can justify their actions to themselves, they will feel less guilt, which makes them more likely to dope. If we reinforce the message that doping is cheating, athletes are less likely to do it,” said Maria Kavussanu, Professor at the University of Birmingham.

The key factor which seems to protect athletes from doping was moral identity.

Those players who had a strong moral identity did not use justifications for doping, expected to feel more guilt for doping, and ultimately were less likely to dope.

“This study is another important step in further understanding the behaviour of doping and it gives valuable insights into how interventions can be tailored to more effectively prevent it from happening,” said Tony Cunningham, Senior Manager, Education at WADA.

“Engaging athletes at a moral level is important, but how to do this and the types of messages an athlete should receive can be difficult to know. The research team have helped to better understand how these messages can be framed,” Cunningham added.